Behind-the-scenes of The Great British Bake Off – secrets from inside the tent

From how to audition for the bakers’ dozen, to who eats all the showstoppers, here’s what really happens in the marquee of dreams

The Great British Bake Off 2018: presenters Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig, and judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith (Channel 4)

The Great British Bake Off is back for its 10th helping, and 12 amateurs have risen to the occasion in order to land a ‘Hollywood Handshake’ and win the coveted Bake Off trophy.

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The shows saucy innuendos, errant squirrels and soggy bottoms make The Great British Bake Off compulsory Autumn viewing, but far more goes into the baking contest than you could ever imagine.

Viewers fall in love with the eccentric bakers in front of the camera, but there’s plenty we don’t see from behind-the-scenes.

Here’s every question you could ever have about the hit Channel 4 show answered.

1. How do you apply to get on the show?

The four semi-final contestants in The Great British Bake Off 2017 (Channel 4, JG)
The four semi-final contestants in The Great British Bake Off 2017 (Channel 4, JG)

The show is evidently not for the half-baked, thanks to the thorough and rigorous application process.

For those even toying with the idea of spending 10 weeks in the tent, applicants have to make sure they fit to the show’s strict stipulations, which include:

  • Being 16 or over
  • Being a resident of the UK
  • They have never worked as a full-time baker, cook or chef
  • They do not have an NVQ or other qualification in baking, cooking, food production, catering or food preparation – unless obtained over 10 years ago

If they get the green light on the above, they then have to fill out the seven-page application process.

“The application form is really long,” 2017 Bake Off winner Sophie Faldo told RadioTimes.com. “It focuses mostly on your baking.

“Every section, like bread and cakes, and biscuits, has its own page and you have to say what your signature bake is and how often you bake it. Then you have a telephone interview.”

Should the show follow the same pattern as last year, applications for The Great British Bake Off 2020 should open in November time, and close in early January.

2. Do you audition for the show?

Sophie revealed that amateur bakers are invited to meet producers and casting executives face-to-face, armed with their own bakes, if they make it through the first two stages.

You’re not told what you have to bake for this part of the process, but Sophie said producers advise “one bake to be sweet and the other to be savoury.”

Those that impress in this penultimate stage are then invited to perform a technical challenge in front of the cameras.

“You have to bake something while you’re there, to make sure you’ve not just been bringing in someone else’s work,” Sophie said. “It’s also to see that we were happy baking and talking at the same time and how we cope with that.”

3. Are participants paid for taking part in The Great British Bake Off?

Bake Off class of 2017

Bake Off is not for those who don’t have any spare dough – with contestants having to fork out their own money for the pricey audition process.

“I was ski instructing in the Alps for all of that season, so [Love Productions] actually paid for my last flight back, but everything else you have to pay for yourself,” Sophie said.

Should you actually secure your place on the show, the production team gives the participants an “allowance”.

“You’re essentially given expenses,” she added. “You’re given an allowance for however many shows you do to source the ingredients.”

4. Where’s the Bake Off tent based?

Bake Off tent stress, Channel 4 press
Bake Off tent stress (Channel 4)

Having previously been pitched up in some of Britain’s best stately homes, including Fulham Palace, London (series one), Valentines Mansion, Redbridge (series two) and Harptree Court, Somerset (series three and four), the tent is now erected in the grounds of Welford Park, Berkshire, every April.

The GBBO filming location was chosen as former Bake Off favourite, Mary Berry, was reportedly very fond of the grounds.

5. How much filming takes place in the Bake Off tent?

We may see just over an hour of action from the tent every Tuesday, but filming is a bit of a slog, with Paul Hollywood explaining that 12 hours worth of filming is considered “a short day”.

“We try and get together as much as we can but sometimes we’re shattered,” he said at last year’s Bake Off press day. “If it’s been a really late one we’re all just saying, ‘I’m going to get room service.'”

However, only one third of that time in the tent is actually spent baking…

6. What does filming in the tent consist of?

According to series four baker Ali Imdad, the rest of that time is spent doing “beauty shots” of the bakes, contestants or judges.

“The baking is filmed as you do it by six cameras moving around the tent, though if they don’t catch something, like you whisking, you might have to do it again,” he told Birmingham Mail.

“If someone fluffs a line during the judging, they will do retakes. Or if you said something and they didn’t quite catch, they will ask you to say it again.”

Ali added that nothing is put into, or taken out, of an oven without the moment being caught on camera.

“That’s the golden rule,” he said. “You had to hail a producer who would make sure you were being filmed.”

“Generally there’s quite a natural flow, but on the very first day of filming we were in the tent for 16 hours.”

With all this stress going on behind-the-scenes, it’s little wonder Iain Watters ended up dumping his melting Baked Alaska in the bin back in 2014.

7. What are the biggest challenges in the tent?

Rahul Bake Off screenshot (EH, C4)
Rahul Bake Off screenshot (EH, C4)

Speaking of melting foods, Bake Off’s late spring-summer filming schedule means scorching weather often wreaks havoc on the bakers – and the show.

Viewers will remember when a storage glass exploded from the extreme heat of the tent in 2018, giving eventual winner Rahul Mandal an extra 15 minutes after the mess was cleared up.

“Whenever we do chocolate, it’s scorching,” the show’s chief home economist, Faenia Moore, told BBC Good Food. “If we’re doing bread when we need warmth for proving, chances are it’ll be freezing. It happens almost every year.”

But the team need not worry about faulty ovens or broken appliances, with a simple Victoria sponge cooked in each oven every day to check everything is in good working order.

8. Who sources all the ingredients for the challenges?

The bakers don’t have too long to prepare the numerous signature and showstopper bakes they would have to sculpt should they make it all the way to the final, with Sophie revealing that the bakers are told “at the last minute” when they’re on the show.

“You’re sent all the briefs around six weeks before you start filming,” she said. “Then you have to send back your recipes. As long as you stick the briefs, you can do what you like in terms of ingredients. There were a few people who had to do a last minute run to the shop!”

The production team has “tonnes and tonnes” of basic baking items that the bakers may need should there be any last minute disasters; and the team need plenty, with previous series’ seeing 1600 eggs, 130 kgs of flour, 150 kgs of sugar, and 95 kgs of sugar being cracked, creamed and dusted into bakes.

However, specially sourced items need to be brought by the bakers themselves.

“Most of the stuff they do prep for you, but for example, I had some Yemenese honey, I’d brought it from the Middle East that I’d bought along specially because it’s not something they could have got themselves,” Sophie said.

9. Do the judges bake their own challenges?

Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith
Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith (Channel 4)

While we can’t imagine Paul spending his weekend timing himself to make massive loaves of bread, Prue often gives her technical challenges a go the weekend before to ensure the bakers can complete the task in the time-limit provided.

“With a lot of these things it’s years since I baked them, but I just love them and it’s quite fun,” she said at the press day for Bake Off 2018. “I quite often bake things after the show because I love it. I’ll get a recipe off one of the bakers and go and bake it.”

10. Who does the illustrations of the bakes?

Tom Hovey is the man behind the drawings of the bakers’ products.

Having been on the show since the very first series, Tom has illustrated over 1000 bakes from the programme.

“I receive a pack of photos of the finished bakes from the set after each episode has been filmed that I use for reference,” he told the BBC. “I sketch out all the bakes quickly in pencil to get the details, form and shape I am after.

“I then work these up by hand drawing them all in ink, then they’re scanned and coloured digitally, and then I add the titles and ingredient arrows. It’s a fairly well streamlined process now.”

11. Who eats all that cake at the end?

This is why working on Bake Off is the sweetest gig on TV – the bakers and the crew are allowed to dig in once each bake has been judged.

“It all gets eaten, but in a controlled way,” said Moore. “It’s important for the bakers to eat what they’ve slaved over, so after each challenge I make up a ‘baker’s basket’ to go to their lunchroom.

“Then any leftovers go to the crew lunch. Everyone gets quite excited so you have to say: ‘Step back, we need to do this in an orderly fashion.’”

The Great British Bake Off 2018 - all 12 bakers, presenters Noel Fielding, Sandi Toksvig and judges Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith

12. And who’s stuck with the washing up?

The marquee of dreams does not have a dishwasher as it would be too noisy – and some more cloying substances need a lot of elbow grease to wash away efficiently.

With the help of a few runners, the mammoth task of washing up is given to home economist Iva Vcelak.

The 2014 series saw her scrub away for more than 160 hours, getting through 1,000 cloths, 80 sponges and 30 litres of washing up liquid.

The Great British Bake Off 2019 begins on 27th August 2019 and continues every Tuesdays at 8pm on Channel 4


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